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Theresa May: How a fiercely private, self-described ‘goody-two shoes’ rose through Tory ranks to become next PM

From her religious upbringing to her meticulous decision-making to her penchant for Alpine treks, Ms May has been described as a woman with 'no wild side'

Maya Oppenheim
Monday 11 July 2016 19:24 BST
Ms May met her husband Phillip at a Tory student disco
Ms May met her husband Phillip at a Tory student disco (Getty)

Known for her steely, no-nonsense and inflexible demeanour, Theresa May is seen as a safe pair of hands within the Conservative party and noted for her careful, meticulous decision-making.

But who is the woman who has striven to keep her “personal life personal”? From her religious upbringing to her grammar school education to her penchant for Alpine walks, Ms May has been described as a woman with "no wild side".

She was banned from canvassing for the Tories by her father

Born in Eastbourne in Sussex, Ms May’s father was a Church of England clergyman. From a young age, she was instilled with a sense of religious discipline. A teenage Ms May was banned from canvassing for the Tories by her father in order to avoid accusations of political bias against him. Nevertheless, this did not stop her political ambitions. Instead, she simply canvassed in the Conservative offices out of sight.

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Ms May was educated in the state sector and won a place at the former Holton Park Girls' Grammar School in Wheatley in Oxfordshire at the age of 13. “I shouldn’t say it, but I probably was Goody Two Shoes,” she told The Telegraph in 2012. Unlike her PPE-educated colleagues, Ms May studied Geography at St Hugh's College, Oxford. Her father Reverend Hubert Brasier died in a car crash while she was in her mid-twenties. Her mother died from multiple sclerosis just a year later.

After graduating, Ms May went on to work at the Bank of England and later at the Association for Payment Clearing Services.

She twice failed to get into the Commons

Following two unsuccessful attempts to get elected to the House of Commons in 1992 and 1994, Ms May was elected as the MP for Maidenhead in the 1997 general election. She went on to be appointed Chairman of the Conservative Party and served in a number of roles in the Shadow Cabinets of William Hague, Michael Howard, Iain Duncan Smith, and David Cameron.

She is a doer not a talker

Ms May has been widely characterised as a pragmatic, non-ideological politician and has been compared to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Despite the fact she has identified herself with the One Nation Conservative position within her party, she is seen to be predominantly concerned with getting the job done.

“My whole philosophy is about doing not talking,” she recently told The Telegraph. “I’ve always championed women in politics. We just get stuck in; politics isn’t a game, the decisions we make affect people’s lives”. Unlike Mr Cameron and the Chancellor George Osborne, Ms May sees Twitter as a waste of time.

She also eschews the old boys’ network associated with the Tory party. “There’s an obvious reason why I’m not part of the old-boys’ network — I’m not an old boy,” she recently said. “I’ve always taken the same approach in every role I’ve played, which is I’ve got a job to do, let’s get on and deliver.”

After finishing her role as chairman of the party, Ms May was replaced by Lord Saatchi and Liam Fox. “Yes, it takes two men to step into the shoes of one woman,” she told The Sunday Times. “It was difficult to leave, I really enjoyed being chairman.”

Ms May popularised the term “Nasty Party” - which is now frequently used to refer to the Conservatives - in a conference speech in October 2002. “There's a lot we need to do in this party of ours. Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies. You know what some people call us – the Nasty Party,” she said warning against the Conservative’s negative image.

Theresa May under fire for threatening to deport EU migrants after Brexit

She is "a bloody difficult woman"

Described as a workaholic, a perfectionist and a steely woman by political colleagues and friends, renditions of Ms May fit into the wider public perception of her. A friend from Oxford said Ms May had “no wild side”.

“Theresa does her red boxes till three in the morning, she knows more than the civil servants do and is rarely caught out. She’s seen as a safe pair of hands,” a minister told The Telegraph. Likewise, a senior police commander recently observed Ms May is a thorough decision-maker but can be inflexible afterwards, but added that her reserve could be perceived as a form of shyness.

Most famously, Nick Clegg reportedly complained that Ms May had no smalltalk and most recently, former Chancellor Ken Clarke was recorded on a live microphone calling her a “bloody difficult woman”.

She is a pasta maker and church goer

When Ms May isn’t staying up until the early hours finishing work, she likes to enjoy her time off with walking holidays in Switzerland and making pasta from scratch. She has previously remarked that she prefers Jamie Oliver’s spontaneous style of cooking to the more rule-bound precision of Delia Smith.

She is also a member of the Church of England and regularly worships at church on Sunday.

She met her husband at a Tory student disco

They were introduced by Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Ms May and Mr Phillip, who is a banker, have no children. She has previously said that she regrets that, for health reasons, she has not been able to have children: "It just didn’t happen. You look at families all the time and you see there is something there that you don’t have”.

Ms May was diagnosed with Type One diabetes in November 2012. She is treated with insulin injections several times a day.

Regardless of whatever point Ms May is trying to convey, most of her interviews are prefaced by comments on her clothes and shoes. “I have grown used to the focus on my clothes and my shoes,” she has said.

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